November 26, 2020: TBTG
As a child our family Thanksgivings were not the large family gathering of a Norman Rockwell painting or a Hallmark Channel TV special. I am not sure why that was since my grandparents on both sides lived within a few miles of us. Other extended family members lived close by as well. It was not until years after my grandparents had died and my siblings and cousins were all adults that we started to spend Thanksgiving as an extended family. At that point I came to understand the dynamics that characterized the stereotypical Thanksgiving meal—crazy uncles spouting inappropriate thoughts, overeating, women doing all of the work while the men and then lazed in front of the TV watching football games they did not care about, and trying to make small talk with people I saw only once a year.
November 22, 2020: Only Kindness Matters
We have a lot of ground to cover today. It is the last Sunday of the Church year or Christ the King Sunday and we have demanding Gospel lesson to unpack. To paraphrase Bette Davis in “All about Eve” “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
November 15, 2020: A Talent for Trouble
It will probably not surprise you that I am not a fan of the traditional interpretation of this parable. I am also tired of the clever sermons that turn on the multiple meanings of the word “talent.” When Matthew wrote this gospel he had no idea that τάλαντον (talanton) in Greek would have a homonymy in the English language (a language that did not exist and a people he had never heard of). To Matthew and his contemporaries a talent was a huge sum of money; usually a brick of precious metal such as silver. One talent was equal to about sixteen years of labor. In today’s money that would be about $1 million (2018 average US household income $63,179 x 16= $1,010,864). So the master was leaving between $1 million and $5 million in the hands of these slaves or overseers while he traveled. These are otherworldly sums, but remember that Jesus has a penchant for hyperbole.
October 18, 2020: Guest Preacher, Julie Simonton
God is meeting us today. God comes to meet us in the Gospel right where we are today, the 18th of October in two-thousand and 20. It is almost inconceivable that we are engaging with a story here about political authority, social economy, taxes, and folks cleverly crafting some political and religious gotcha questions. Just like political adversaries across our televisions, across social media, and across this country, Jesus’ adversaries are politically maneuvering to leave him spectacularly cornered and spectacularly defeated.
October 11, 2020: The King Who Was Not God
I have never liked this parable. Another preacher wrote, “It is my least favorite parable in my least favorite gospel.” There are several reasons for that. First it is the climax of a series of increasingly violent and brutal parables. Compared to parables in the other Gospels Matthew seems to have a penchant for violence. If he has a signature phrase it is, “banish him to the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This seems to be Matthew speaking rather than Jesus because it does not show up in any other gospel.
October 4, 2020: Tending the Vineyard of Love
As I noted last week, context is always important when discussing the Bible. Jesus tells this parable during what we call Holy Week. The day before he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, followed by the cleansing of the Temple. Now he has returned to the Temple and is teaching. Prior to today’s reading he told the Parable of Two Sons, the parable we discussed last week. The upshot of that parable was a condemnation of the priests and elders who did not accept the authority of John’s baptism, and praise for the worst of sinners who sought out John’s baptism of repentance. The Temple priests and elders are appropriately chastened, but Jesus is not done with them and thus follows the parable we just heard.
September 27, 2020: Walking Humbly with God
As I have said before, when looking at scripture it is always important to be aware of the context. In this case the context is Jesus’ last days before he is crucified, what we call Holy Week. Just the day before today’s reading Jesus entered Jerusalem to the adulation of the people. He then went to the Temple and drove out the money changers and merchants turning over tables and creating mayhem as he shouted, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
September 20, 2020: At Work in the Fields of the Lord
If you are a firstborn child you know the frustration of being denied privileges such as staying up late to watch TV, reading after lights out, or getting to eat candy on Halloween. If you are a second born child you know the glory of getting those privileges and more at the same time as your older sibling. Parents seem most strict with the first child, and by the time that first child has earned a privilege it seems too hard to hold the second or third child to the same time table as the first. They relent and give everyone permission simultaneously. This is an additional frustration for first-born children. We have to wait the longest and behave the best in order to earn these perks. The younger ones are just along for the ride. As a firstborn I can tell you it really stinks.
September 13, 2020: Love Means Saying You're Sorry
I am sure many of you remember a blockbuster movie from 1970 starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O’Neal. The movie was called “Love Story.” That movie introduced a phrase into popular culture that plagues us to this day. "Love means not ever having to say you're sorry." In the movie “What’s Up Doc?” Barbara Streisand’s character offers up that aphorism to Ryan O’Neal’s character who responds, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The film was based on the novel of the same title by Erich Segal.
September 6, 2020: Reflection
I grew up in Middlebury, Connecticut, a small New England town. My father was the minister of the town’s Congregational church. My childhood was idyllic in many ways. My family was actually written up in Lady’s Home Journal in 1952 — “Christmas in the Parsonage”!!! When I was 13 years old, my father was called to a new church and so my family moved to New Haven, Connecticut. As the years went by, I would often go back to our church in Middlebury to see my old friends in the congregation who were an enormous support to me.
August 30, 2020: The Road Taken
For any of you who have been in my office you have noticed that I have a wall of crosses. These crosses come from many different places and many different people. One is golden and shiny like a Christmas tree ornament. A cross from Haiti is made up of many faces. One is a tiny version of the San Damiano cross; the cross that St. Francis prayed to, and a cross with a rooster in the center as a reminder of my many mission trips to The Dominican Republic. It is amazing how an instrument of torture has become a symbol of hope, peace, and love for billions of people today and over the centuries.
August 23, 2020: Walking the Talk
Not long ago I was listening to the radio and I heard a song that I thought had to be a new track from one of my favorite bands of all time. I could not imagine how this band had released a new song or album and I did not know. I went online to find the station’s playlist. It turned out to be a band I had not heard of. I had to find out more. After a little investigation I learned that this musician I had never heard of was actually riffing on my favorite band. He was intentionally copying them. My ears had not fooled me.
August 16, 2020: Awakened to Heal
There are times when a change of scenery is helpful. I expect many of us are yearning for the chance to travel more freely—to get out of the “Middleburg bubble” as a friend of mine calls it. We know from the scripture readings over the past weeks that Jesus has been trying to get some alone time for prayer and recharging. He has tried to escape to the hills and across a lake but without much success. Because he is finding it impossible to get some respite in his home region of Galilee he heads to the “district of Tyre and Sidon.
August 9, 2020: Leap of Faith
I love St. Peter. Without his example I do not think that I could have any hope of salvation. Growing up we were always instructed to emulate Jesus. Jesus was our example for how to be. That is all well and good. We should have exemplars to aspire to. The only problem with aspiring to be like Jesus is that we are bound to fail. I was taught that Jesus was perfect—the one and only Son of God. If he is perfect and the only one who is, what hope have I, or any of us, to live up to that? The answer in short is none.
August 2, 2020: Teachin' and Preachin'
I am at odds with myself this morning. The teacher in me wants to take apart this passage while the pastor in me wants to preach about its meaning for us today. Rather than pick one I have decided to give you a little of both.
July 26, 2020: Bordering on Love
The last few weeks have been a feast of agricultural parables. We had the farmer who was sowing seeds everywhere not just in the tilled soil, but on the path, in stony ground and in the briars. No sensible farmer would waste his seed on unfertile ground, but God sows the seeds of love everywhere, on those ready to receive it and on those that might not seem ready. God’s love is abundant and never runs out. If it sprouts even for only a moment on unfertile ground it is better than if that ground had never seen love. In the kingdom of heaven love is everywhere and available to all even the most hardhearted.
July 19, 2020: The Garden of Heaven
Weeds, weeds, weeds, they are everywhere this time of year. Flower beds, landscaping, vegetable gardens, even our sidewalks and driveways are infested with weeds. If you are a gardener you know that if the soil is good enough to grow something you like, it is also good enough, in fact better than good enough, to grow weeds. So weeding this time of year is a must.
July 12, 2020: Sowing the Seeds of Love
As a young person I was not a gardener. Gardening was too close to the family nursery business where from ages 14 to 21 I worked every summer and many weekends chopping and pulling weeds all day long often by myself in the back fields. It was hot, lonely and boring work. It had to be done and as my hourly wage was the lowest I got to do it. Having a flower garden or a vegetable garden was not a hobby that appealed to me it was too much like work. Things have changed as I have gotten older and further away from those days in the fields.
June 28, 2020: Same as it ever was, but for how long?
These past few months have felt like one of those TV shows set in a dystopian future. That world resembles ours in many ways, but there is a nagging suspicion that something is not quite right. The clothes are slightly different. There is something about music that is similar but slightly out of tune. Perhaps it rains a little too much or not enough. The world is familiar but essentially different.
June 14, 2020: Send Me
One of the standard devices in films and television whether it be comedy or drama is sending someone on a simple errand. For example, sending a child to the market to purchase one item can be a setup for so much comedy, adventure, or drama. The child might get distracted along the way and forget their errand. A bully might steal their money. They might make it to the store but purchase the wrong item confusing items that sound alike or look similar. The hopeless husband is nearly as bad and can fall prey to the same issues; although he is more likely to buy everything but what is needed having forgotten the purpose of his errand in quick order. An adult woman is less likely to commit such an error, unless there is a shoe store planted in her path. Of course, these are all stereotypes and none of them particularly kind.
June 7, 2020: Holy Dance
When I was a young man, just 25 years old, I decided that I wanted to get a British sports car. I had been enamored with Triumphs and MGs for years. I was aware that one aspect of owning a British car was maintenance. They were notorious for needing lots of care. A popular bumper sticker read, “The parts falling off of this car are of the finest British manufacture.”
May 31, 2020: Burning Love
Over the past two thousand years but especially in the first few centuries, Christianity has been a religion of appropriation. That is, we Christians have been known to see something in other faith traditions and taken it on for our own use. For example, prayer beads long predate the Christian rosary and ritual cleansing with water predates baptism. One of our first appropriations was the Jewish Feast of Pentecost.
May 24 2020: Knocking on Heaven's Door
As Bob was reading the passage from John I was standing behind the camera looking at the Ascension window over the entryway to our church. Because the Feast of the Ascension is forty days after Easter Day it always lands on a Thursday. Many parishes allow the Day of the Ascension to slip by with hardly a nod. I have been guilty of just that. But I feel convicted by this window and want to focus on Jesus’ Ascension this morning.
May 17 2020: Mama Said, "There’ll Be Days"
I have been thinking a lot about the people who have been mentors and guides in my life. You have heard me talk about my maternal grandmother, my uncle Johnny Mac, my parents, my college choir director, and others. So Many people have been important to me in forming me to be the man I am today. The African saying is, “That it takes a village to raise a child.” Truly I think there have been a host of nearly biblical proportions of mentors, teachers, friends, guides, companions, advocates, aids, comforters, to get me through life to this stage. Undoubtedly there will be more whom I have not yet met who will provide me guidance and care in the future.
May 10, 2020: Dazed and Confused?
John chapter 14 is one of those passages of scripture that is full of familiar and important statements by Jesus. It is a delight for the preacher and reader alike, because there is so much to ponder. John begins by having Jesus tell us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” He continues saying, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Just a few sentences later Jesus responds to a question from Thomas by saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Then he responds to a question form Philip by telling us that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” and later “the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do great works than these.”
May 3, 2020: Show Me the Road to Go Home
Several years ago on Good Shepherd Sunday I was preaching to a group of children and their parents. I invited the children to come to the front of the chapel and sit on the rug so that we could have a discussion about this very passage. One thing that is important for adults to be aware of is that younger children are concrete thinkers. Metaphor as a concept is not easy for them to understand. This passage uses two metaphors. I thought I had a chance with one because the compassion is fairly straightforward, but the other would be a challenge to communicate.
April 26, 2020: One the Road to Something New
Two people were walking down from Jerusalem on the Sunday after the crucifixion. One was named Cleopas and the other traveler is unnamed; that could have been your or me. The two travelers’ destination was a town called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked they discussed the events of what we call Holy Week. They wondered where everything went wrong. Just a week ago they were walking into Jerusalem and their leader was being hailed as a new messiah; one anointed by God to free his people. But by week’s end everything was turned upside down, as they watched helplessly as Jesus was arrested, tried, and put to death on a cross.
April 12, 2020: Resurrect Yourself
Alleluia. The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way we can go back to feeling sorry for ourselves because we are stuck at home unable to out with friends and family, unable to have big Easter celebrations and Easter egg hunts, unable to shop, unable to go to church, and all the other things we want to do.
April 9, 2020: Following Love's Command
Today is Maundy Thursday. The Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum which translates as commandment. For this is the day we remember that in the Gospel of John Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
April 5, 2020: I Say a Little Prayer
At the risk of stating the obvious, people all around are worried. We are worried about the novel coronavirus, and its unchecked transmission around the globe. It is a tough bug and presently there is no vaccine to prevent it or reliable drug regimen to treat it. We are also concerned because the news about the virus seems to be changing hourly, and certainly daily. Are we to wear masks or not? Are we to stay home completely isolated or can we go to work and the supermarket? Where will help come from? It is so confusing that if feels like we should isolate even more than we are required.
March 29, 2020: Out of the Depths
This fifth Sunday in Lent we have readings that speak of despair, despair that leads to hope. Ezekiel wonders what he is to do with a valley of dry bones. Mary and Martha wonder how they will go on without their brother. The psalmist pleads, wonders, and waits. We may feel profound resonance with these readings as we wonder how we are to live in a world where pandemic surrounds the globe.
March 22, 2020: Beloved of God
“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” so wrote Gertrude Stein. William Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While those are true in their fashion, names are important. I am fascinated by names of in the Bible. Biblical names often give us clues to the nature of the individuals and to the arc of a story. Sometimes, as in the case of today’s reading from the First Book of Samuel, they can also be ironic.
From “Sacred Emily” by Gertrude Stein.
From “Romeo and Juliet” Act 2, scene 1 by William Shakespeare
March 15, 2020: That's Why We Are Here
A few weeks ago, dear friends from Richmond, Steven and Barbara, sent me a card my birthday. They have a mischievous sense of humor upon which I can always rely. The card they sent had a vicar sitting with one of his female parishioners at tea. The vicar asks her, “Have you given much thought to the hereafter?” She responds, “Oh yes, I do it all the time. Wherever I am—upstairs, in the kitchen or in the basement I ask myself, ‘Now what am I here after?’”
March 8, 2020: Nico-waivers
When I was young, in the third grade or so, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me. That lesson was that asking questions can be dangerous. While we often say that there is no such thing as a stupid question, in practice many questions are treated as stupid either by an authority figure or by one’s peers. In school, asking a question opened me up for ridicule, embarrassment, and shaming. I learned that the safest way to deal with questions was to ignore them, or, if they were really pressing to ask the teacher after class. If there was to be any shame at least it was not public.
March 1, 2020: The First Temptation of Christ
I remember growing up with Looney Tunes cartoons. I watched them every Saturday morning. They were funny for the predictability of Wile E. Coyote’s failures to catch the Road Runner, Elmer Fudd’s being out witted by the “pesky wabbit,” and Tweety Bird’s insouciant manner as he battled Sylvester. The pranks, the art, and the pratfalls were great fun. They warranted watching over and over again.
February 26, 2020: That is What Lent is All About
For many Christians, repentance is a hard word. Whether you were reared in an evangelical tradition or mainline tradition repentance is scary. It conjures images of medieval monks whipping themselves with knotted cords, saints starving themselves in lengthy fasts, or something creepy from a Dan Brown novel. This is all in an effort to purge their bodies of fleshly urges or punish themselves for wicked thoughts. To most modern people mortification of the flesh seems superstitious at best and masochistic at worst. We question how causing ourselves pain gets us closer to God.
February 23, 2020: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Today is the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Throughout this season of Epiphany, the gospel lessons we have heard each Sunday have been stories that reveal something of Jesus’ holiness to us. These are stories that point beyond Jesus of Nazareth the man and toward Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. These stories include Jesus’ baptism, calling of the disciples, teaching with power in the synagogue, and miraculous healing and exorcism. Perhaps the most remarkable, the most profound revelation of Jesus as God’s anointed one is in today’s reading of the transfiguration of Jesus.
February 16, 2020: The Context of Blessing
Aphorisms are popular in most cultures. They are often words of wisdom that are intended to succinctly provide information in a memorable way. The Book of Proverbs is an example of a collection of such sayings. Aphorisms can be the familiar such as “The early bird gets the worm” or the less familiar “Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.” My mother subscribes to some magazines that each month offers a page of jokes, quotations and sayings. She saves them and sends them to me sometimes with her own notations about which sayings she found compelling or helpful.
February 9, 2020: Be a Beatitude
Have you ever used a word or a phrase and thought you knew exactly what that word or phrase meant, only to one day find that it meant something more than you realized or something completely different? That is what I have been doing this week.
February 2, 2020: Dedicated to God
I am very excited today. As your bulletin notes, today we mark Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple. It is unusual to hear these readings in church on Sunday, because this feast day is associated with a specific date. That date, February 2nd, only falls on a Sunday every five to seven years. In other years the feast is marked but not with the emphasis it gets on a Sunday. Even this Sunday the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple for many in the U.S. will be overshadowed by Groundhog Day (pun intended), and has to compete with the Super Bowl (pun also intended). If one needs any evidence that the world is becoming more secular here it is. But enough of my kvetching.
January 26, 2020: Jesus Calling
There is a lot going on in today’s Gospel lesson. John the Baptist has been arrested by Herod Antipas son of Herod the Great. Because of John’s arrest Jesus returns to his home region of Galilee far away from Herod. But Jesus does not stay in Nazareth long before he heads to Capernaum and makes it his home base. Capernaum is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Matthew tells us that this is to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah that a great light, in this case Jesus, will shine on the people who live in darkness, the people of Galilee, especially the Gentiles on the far shore.
January 19, 2020: Show Me the Way to Go Home
Many of us have had heroes, people we look up to especially in our youth. They might have been sports stars (for me it was Sandy Koufax), or celebrities (mine was Vic Morrow), or politicians (mine was JFK), or others (I thought Pope John XXIII was a good man, but I never let my Baptist parents know). Of course, a lot of this hero worship is influenced by the media. People whose accomplishments are shown in a favorable light get a young person’s attention.
January 12, 2020: Commissioned Without Omission
How many of you can remember your baptism? How old were you when you were baptized and what do you remember about your baptism? I was baptized at age twelve. I had asked to be baptized before when my best friends were being baptized. I felt left out. I wanted to be part of the group. I asked my parents and they had me meet with our pastor. After our discussion he and my parents were clear that I was not ready. Several years later when there was not peer pressure involved, I once again met with my pastor. It was then that everyone agreed that I was ready for baptism. I was spiritually mature enough, and my desire for baptism did not have to do with what my friends were doing. Rather it had to do with my perceived call by the Holy Spirit to become a member of the church through baptism.
January 5, 2020: What a Difference a Babe Makes
Some of you have met my brother Brian. He is the least obviously religious member of my family. But during my journey toward ordination and now in the priesthood he has surprised me with the depth of his spirituality. Over Christmas I discovered another aspect of his of which I was no aware.
December 24, 2019: This is Christmas
Why do we come to church on Christmas Eve? There are many reasons some mundane, some reverential, and some mystical. For example, some folks come to church on Christmas Eve to show off the new dress or suit and to see what others are wearing. Others come to see the decorations, the pine rope, the poinsettias, and wreaths. Some come to hear the Christmas music and to sing the carols that remind them of their childhood and a simpler time when life was not so complex. This is not a bad thing. I imagine that we all need moments of nostalgia that take us to another time and place particularly if in that place we find hope, joy, peace, love, and a sense of contentment that is often elusive in our daily existence.
December 22, 2019: Choose Love
Today is the last Sunday in Advent. In just three days it will be Christmas morning, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Before then on Christmas Eve we will hear the story of Jesus’ birth according to Luke. That is the story with a trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the manger, shepherds watching their flocks by night, an army of angels and so much more. Today we hear a different version of the birth story. This is the one that St. Matthew wrote for us.
December 15, 2019: Choose Joy
Welcome to Rose Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, Joy Sunday. I must say that I find it a little strange that we have to insert a Sunday for joy in the midst of a season that seems so full of joy. Of course, this goes back to the Middle Ages, as so many church practices do, when Advent was considered a little Lent. Our Medieval forebears had a thing for contrition, penitence, and punishing the sins of the flesh. Despite living in a period that we now consider the Dark Ages, it seems that things needed to be even darker than they were for those living in that period. Advent in modernity is a season of waiting, expectancy and longing, yet it may be that we need the candle and Sunday of joy more than ever.
December 8, 2019: Do We Know it's Christmas?
What is it with the Church? The rest of the world is singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and we sit here listening to John the Baptist rant at all of the people of Jerusalem and Judea. Instead of singing “Silver Bells” or “Christmastime Is Here” we cannot get any more joyful “There’s a voice in the wilderness crying.” As Lucy Van Pelt tells Schroeder, “I mean No, no. You don’t get it at all. I mean ‘Jingle Bells.’ You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho, and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.”
December 1, 2019: Mothers of God
When I was in my early teens my Sunday School teachers were a little nuts. They got caught up in reading the Bible for clues to the eschaton or end times. I do not know if they were influenced by a particular writer, pseudo-theologian or were just coming up with this stuff themselves. Regardless of their source, they had decided that the end of the world was going to be in the year 2,000.
November 28, 2019: Thanks for the Memories
Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.
This is one of the most popular poems/songs about Thanksgiving. I wonder if anyone has ever had such an idyllic experience. Certainly as time passes it becomes more the stuff of a Currier and Ives print than an actual memory.
November 24, 2019: King of Love
Today is the last Sunday after Pentecost; a rather mundane title for the day. It is also the last Sunday of the church year and next Sunday will be New Year’s Day (in the liturgical calendar). For some time there has been a Sunday called Christ the King, but the Church did not settle on a particular Sunday until recently when the last Sunday after Pentecost was chosen. Some call it Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday; while others feeling that the monarch terminology is dated call it the Kin-dom of Christ Sunday. This last one seems more than a little contrived to me.
November 17, 2019: Soul Work
I grew up in a small town in Virginia and I can still remember the first time I visited a really big city. It was the summer between fifth and sixth grade. I spent several weeks that summer traveling the eastern seaboard with my father. We visited tree farms and nurseries hunting for plant stock for the family business. One of the trips took us up to Long Island. The highlight of that trip, beyond all that one-on-one time with my dad, was our visit to New York City.
November 10, 2019: One Bride for Seven Brothers
JDuring his time as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was often called on to represent not only the Church of England but the Church writ large. In several instances his role was to debate Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens at the time was the poster boy for the New Atheists as they styled themselves. I think the hopes were that Hitchens would demolish the fuddy duddy religion and the hairy Welsh primate. Instead the debates showed that Hitchens did not understand that Christians are not all fundamentalists or biblical literalists. Christianity, especially Anglicanism, can be quite nuanced.
November 3, 2019: More Than a Wee Bit of Faith
I imagine many of you are familiar with this song about Zacchaeus. You might have learned it in Sunday School or at church camp. It is a cute song and sort of has that ear worm quality, that once it gets in your head it is hard to get it out (kind of like “Baby Shark”). It tells some of the parts of the Zacchaeus story, but not the whole story.
November 1, 2019: All Saints' Day
John McGuire Chinn is a name that I doubt means much to anyone here but me.
John McGuire Chinn was better known as Johnny Mac, Mac or Macy. He was my mother’s younger brother, my uncle. He died a few days after his birthday in early September of this year at the age of 82. He loved the neighborhood of his birth, White Oak in Stafford County. He loved his wife Harriet, and he had special affection for all of his nieces and nephews. He loved and took in stray cats and dogs. He loved all wild creatures and the changing faces of nature. He could write poetically of the coming of autumn, the bursting forth of spring, the heat of summer and the apparent barrenness of winter.
October 27, 2019: Hope in God
Years ago I worked with a fellow who seemed to me to be arrogant and lazy. Whenever he was given a task he would fail at it and expect someone to cover for him, or he would dither his time away until he could not get it done and depend on someone to pick up the project and do it for him. Those that hired him seemed to not care that he was not caring his load. He was still the golden boy in their eyes.
October 20, 2019: "Struggle for Our Better Angels"
Much in the same way that the scriptures last week seemed to be focused on gratitude, this week the theme seems to be struggle. There is Jacob struggling with the angel or God and the widow struggling with the judge. In between we have the reading from Second Timothy that speaks of impending struggle between the congregation and the Roman society. Even the psalm hints at struggle as the psalmist asks “from where is my help to come?” Of these I find the story from Genesis the most intriguing
October 13, 2019: "Thank You Very Much"
The readings today are tied together by one theme—gratitude. It is an important theme but perhaps it seems mundane. After all, from a young age we learn to say, “Thank you.” Some of us were taught to write thank you notes after receiving a gift, even if we did not like the gift. Some of us are so steeped in the tradition of giving thanks that we thank the cashier in a store after they take our money. As if they were doing us a favor by making us pay for the items.
October 6, 2019: "Faith Grows Where My Heart Goes"
Today we have two sayings from Jesus that seem to be unrelated. I thought that Luke may have just decided to put these two sayings here because he had them left over and did not know where to stick them and this seemed as good a place as any in the Gospel. But the more I have pondered them the more I think I see the relationship between the two. But let’s look at each of them separately first.
September 29, 2019: "Who Are You?"
For almost three years from 2001-2004 I commuted of work five days a week from Fredericksburg to DC. After arriving at Union Station I took a Metro line to my stop to Farragut North. From there I walked a few blocks to my firm’s offices. Near the station there was a man who sat on the sidewalk. In the cold weather he had a blanket covering him with a paper cup exposed to collect money. He did not ask for money. Sometimes he shook the cup to make the coins clatter in order to get attention. Otherwise he was quiet.
September 22, 2019: "Seek the Kingdom of God"
One of the great advances of our age is electronic communication. Telephone, email and texting along with programs like Face Time and Skype have revolutionized the way we communicate with each other. This technology is not just for the powerful and wealthy, nearly every human being has access to this kind of communication.
September 8, 2019: "Counting Costs"
I am sure that we can all remember as a child being angry at our parents. It was probably over something trivial in the scheme of things, but at that moment it meant everything in the world. It could have been about playing with a friend, having a special toy or treat, or watching a television show. In our fury we would stomp off to our room saying something like “I hate you. You never let me do anything. I am going to eat worms and die. Then you will be sorry.” In that moment we were furious with our parents that we thought we hated them, but nothing could have been further from the truth. We probably did not have the words for it at the time, but what we were expressing was hyperbole. Our emotions were over the top and we were using the only words that our 8-year-old vocabulary had.
September 1, 2019: "Angels with Dirty Faces"
It was late May about ten years ago and I needed to move out of my apartment. There were several problems facing me. First, it seemed that all of my friends were out of town. They had helped me with the packing, but it was a holiday weekend and they were unavailable. Second, I was sick as a dog. I had been sick for days. In fact, I was still running a fever. I had tried to get some leeway from the landlord, but I had to vacate so that they could get it ready for the new tenant. Third, I did not have money to hire a mover. I was in a pickle.
August 25, 2019: "Never on a Sunday"
Until the end of the 1970s we had ordinances known as Blue Laws or Sunday Laws in Virginia. These laws prohibited the sale of certain items on Sundays. I remember going into a Hechinger’s store one Sunday (Hechinger’s was the local version of Lowes or Home Depot) to find that many aisles were roped off and displays covered. When I asked I was told they could not sell items on Sunday that involved work such as tools and mops, etc. There are often still restrictions on alcohol sales on Sundays. I remember in North Carolina you could not buy alcohol until 1 p.m. on Sunday. In Maryland the only place to buy alcohol on Sundays was at a restaurant that had an off premise license, and you paid dearly for it. Interestingly, many places prohibited the sale of cars of Sundays.
August 18, 2019: "Long Division"
Thirty-seven years ago this summer my best friend moved from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to New Haven, Connecticut. We had been friends for less than a year, but it was a rich year for me. While we were coworkers it was outside of work that so much happened. He introduced me to the writing of Walker Percy. He taught me how to brew beer. He and another friend “kidnapped” from my bed in the midst of a snowstorm on my birthday. I was going to miss him.
August 4, 2019: "I Swear it's Not Too Late"
“Vanity of vanities all is vanities” is one of the great lines of scripture. It is so poetic that I think not of the Bible but of Shakespeare. Although it is most certainly is from The Book of Ecclesiastes.
July 28, 2019: "Teach Us to Pray"
For the past several weeks I have been writing about prayer in the weekly blog posts. One aspect of prayer that I have tried to convey it that it is a conversation. It is a dialogue not a monologue. We speak to God but we leave time and silence for God to respond.
July 21, 2019: "Welcomed into the Household of God"
Many of us grew up hearing about Southern Hospitality. I think it could also be rural hospitality. There is something about being separated from towns and centers of commerce that seems to bring out in us the concern for the traveler. It is not that towns and cities are bad, but there one has many options for getting a bit of food and drink, for finding a place to rest. In the countryside one does not always run up on a store, restaurant or hotel.
July 14, 2019: "Who is Good?"
Today’s Old Testament and Gospel lessons were written down about 800 years apart. Yet, both include men whom people called prophets. Both also include people who we called Samaritans. Some of this is not obvious so let me begin with a little biblical history lesson.
July7, 2019: "Prayer for All Time"
Each week we say or sing a psalm in our worship. If you come to Compline we also say psalms then. If you ever had one of those tiny Gideon Bibles you will remember that it contained the New Testament in its entirety along with Proverbs and Psalms. It was as though the Gideons were telling us that all that is necessary for salvation are the books about Jesus, the aphorisms of proverbs, and the psalter.
June 30, 2019: "A Mind Set on God"
Back in 1987 George Harrison, the quiet Beatle, did a cover version of a song called “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You.” I did not know this was a cover version as I was not aware of the original from 1962 by a singer named James Ray. His version has a calypso feel to it. And for anyone who is a fan of cowbell you get it from beginning to end. I think more cowbell would be impossible unless there was a cowbell choir. The reason I bring this song is because it is the closest we get in our current language to the strange expression Luke uses in this Gospel reading. It is an expression that strikes me as rich and powerful every time I read it. That is when Luke writes, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
June 23, 2019: "Legion of Hope"
I am sure that some of you have seen the television series “Homeland.” The story is about a U.S. Marine, Nicholas Brody, who is captured and held by al Qaeda for several years. He is rescued and returns home lauded as a hero. One of the subplots of the show is the relationship between him and his family. While there is outward excitement that Brody has been rescued and is returning to them there is also much trepidation. His wife had given Brody up for dead and is involved with another man. This man, a friend of Brody’s, has also taken on the role of surrogate father to the young son. The boy was very young when Brody left for Iraq and does not remember his biological dad. He is used to the surrogate father and wary of Brody. The teenage daughter is in her rebellious phase and finds the family upheaval confusing and the secrets hypocritical. Additionally, while Brody is glad to be free he is unsure how to be a dad and husband. He continues certain practices that gave him comfort as a prisoner such as sleeping on the floor or in a corner. Needless to say this is not the idyllic reunion of family that we romanticize. In a word, it is fraught.
June 9, 2019: "Comfort Me"
I love getting mail. It has been that way since I was a little kid. It does not matter what sort of mail it is, as long as there is something in the mailbox. Of course, personal mail is the best, but circulars and pleas from charities will do. Indeed, nowadays it is a rarity to get a piece of mail that is not addressed to Eugene LeCouteur or “current resident.” Corresponding by personal letter has gone the way of the party line, cassette tapes, and penny candy. Now that we have email, Facebook, texting, and Twitter, it seems like there is almost no reason to hand write a letter, note, or postcard. It is laborious, requires stationery and postage, and our message can take days to reach its recipient, whereas electronic messages arrive in moments.
June 2, 2019: "We Have Met the Enemy"
This is the seventh Sunday of Easter. We should be joyful as we celebrate the wonder and promise that the resurrection means for us and for the whole world. But this world is broken. My heart is heavy after yet another massacre of people doing their jobs and attempting to live normal lives. My heart is sick just as it was after Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Fort Hood, Aurora, Pulse, Tree of Life Synagogue, and the list goes on and on and on.
May 26, 2019: "Women of Worth"
Last week the reading from the Acts of the Apostles was about a vision that Peter had, wherein he saw all sorts of animals lowered down on a sheet. He was told in the vision that he was permitted to eat of any of the animals even those that his religion had told him were unclean and therefore unfit to eat. We saw how this revelation was about much more than food. After he had the vision he realized that he could share a meal with those who ate foods that had been prohibited to him. This revelation further showed him and the council in Jerusalem that the Gentiles had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and could be brought into the household of God. This vision was important not because Peter could now eat bacon, sausage, and oysters, but because all the people of the world had access to the Holy Spirit.
May 19, 2019: "Room Enough for All"
There is a tradition in the South, in places like North Carolina, Tennessee, and southern Virginia, to go out for breakfast after church on Sunday. These folks are not going out to get brunch with a mimosa or bloody Mary, eggs benedict, cheese grits soufflé and the like. Nope, they are headed for the all-you-can-eat buffet at places like K&W Cafeteria, Old Country Buffet, or Bob Evans. This is so important to folks that I have heard stories of towns where the churches arranged their service schedules so that they would not have to wait in line behind another church at the buffet.
May 12, 2019: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need"
Today is a special day for many reasons. In the secular world we celebrate Mothers’ Day honoring those who are mothers or who serve in the role of mother. It is also the day when we say goodbye to our beloved friends Corinna and Stephen Schrankel as they move to San Diego. In the church today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year on the fourth Sunday after Easter we read one of the Bible passages in which Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. Finally for us it is a special day as we welcome Margot Talbot Carey into the household of God, through the water of baptism.
May 5, 2019: "The Code of Life"
How many of you have read The Da Vinci Code or any of the other books by Dan Brown? I read The Da Vinci Code and found it entertaining. There is mystery, intrigue and suspense. There is also a fair amount of legend, imagination that passes for history and theology that is worse than heresy. If one reads his books for entertainment that is just fine. But if one is reading it to learn about church history, hidden truths about Christianity, and the secret working of the Vatican in my opinion you have made a big mistake. These are works of fiction, novels and should be treated as such.
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April 28, 2019: "A Witness Without Doubts"
I feel sorry for Thomas. Every year we hear the account in John’s Gospel about how he is absent from the Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples. When he hears the story from them he refuses to believe them unless he sees Jesus and touches his wounds.
Easter Day, 2019: "A Basket Full of Blessings"
I was looking for a painting or image to put on today’s bulletin, something joyful and suitably uplifting and Christian—not bunnies or chicks. Of course, most of the images I found were not at all happy. Silly me, as the Gospels tell us, that first Easter morning was anything but jubilant. The disciples both men and women, did not know what was happening or what to do. The men were in hiding in fear of being arrested and crucified like Jesus. The woman who could operate below the radar, so to speak, did the things that they could do. They prayed, they cooked, and they intended to care for body of Jesus.
Easter Vigil, 2019: "Light Sings all over the World"
I have some very good friends, people whom I respect for their devotion and for their intellect who feel that we should ignore the Old Testament, that the Old Testament has no worth for us as Christians. Instead, they say we are a New Testament people; we have Jesus. They say they are turned off to the Old Testament because God is always angry, God is always smiting people and God shows no love or tenderness for the Israelites much less the Philistines, Canaanites, Moabites, and all of the other “ites” of the Hebrew Bible.
Good Friday, 2019: "We wait. We watch. We pray."
As I have read and pondered the scriptures of Holy Week I have been intrigued by the dichotomies of dark and light, evil and good, and fear and hope. Underlying or running through all of this is the element of confusion.
Maundy Thursday, 2019: "A New Commandment"
Maundy Thursday is the night of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, but it gets its name from Jesus giving a new commandment. Maundy is derived from the Old French mandé which is derived from mandatum in Latin.
April 14, 2019: "Stepping Forward into the Mystery"
Liturgically today is very strange. Your bulletin reads Palm Sunday but the church has also made today Passion Sunday. That is we are supposed to celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then in nearly the blink of an eye experience the Passion. It is like going to the scenes menu on a DVD and skipping from scene 1 to scene 5. Jesus enters Jerusalem and then all of sudden he is being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. The apparent reason is because so many people are unable to attend church on Good Friday. So while it is odd to have the entry and crucifixion on the same day, it would also be strange to jump form the entry to resurrection without the crucifixion. So today we have had a mashup.
March 24, 2019: "Holy Fertilizer"
Some of you may know that I once worked in gourmet food and wine retail. It was an interesting business and I learned a lot about how various foods were grown or made. In fact, in those days I gave classes and tasting of mustards, olive oils, vinegars, beer and wine. I particularly enjoyed studying and learning about viticulture; the growing of grapes and the processes for producing wine. One of the rules in wine growing was that it takes three years for new vines to start producing usable grapes. Younger vines might produce but they do not have the root structure and maturity to produce grapes that are worthy of quality wine. This seems to hold true for other fruit bearing vines and trees such as the fig tree in today’s parable.
March 17, 2019: "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”
One of the funniest books I have ever read was written by the storyteller and observer of human foibles, Jean Shepherd. His childhood reminiscences were the basis for the movie “A Christmas Story.” The book that inspired the movie begins with a man returning to his hometown one snowy day. Before going to his family home he stops off in a nearby watering hole. As he is having a drink and chatting with the barkeep he notices the sign over the cash register. It reads, “In God we trust, all others pay cash.”
March 6, 2019: "Fasting for Love”
Giving up something for Lent seems to be one of those things that liturgical Christians (in particular Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans) do that mystifies non-liturgical Christians especially evangelical and non-denominational Christians. They wonder how giving up something would make one closer to God, especially if you are going to return to it after Lent. If giving up something would help us get closer to God, we should stick with it for more than forty days.
March 3, 2019: "Listen Up”
Transfiguration seems like such a strange thing. We read about it a couple of times in the Bible, but I think most of us would not consider it part of our everyday experience. But I think you might have more experience of it than you think. For example, have you ever seen a woman after she has given birth? She is the same woman, but something is certainly changed about her. Perhaps you have seen a youngster when he has performed a solo for the first time, or a little one when mom or dad comes home after a long trip. These people are not changed from who they were, but there is something about them that is different. They seem to glow with joy. Their countenance radiates a sense of transcendence. They are on another plane from where they were before.
February 24, 2019: "Who's to Judge?”
I love people watching. I can see some heads nodding out there. It seems some of you might like doing the same. At its most innocent it is just noticing faces, distinctive walks, and stylish clothing. There are also times when I look at people and make up stories about who they are or what they are doing. The person who is scowling might be angry with his boss. The woman talking dreamily on her phone I can imagine is talking to someone she loves. The little boy being dragged along by mom who is so eager to stop and spend time petting the dog or investigating some yummy looking food dropped by another pedestrian. If my mood is nonchalant or I am feeling generous to the world that is the extent of it.
February 17, 2019: "Today friends, I believe the Gospel speaks for itself.”
For years I have joked, especially when stymied by a particular passage of scripture that I would stand in the pulpit and say just that and sit down. It was fun to say and I hope that I have gotten it out of my system. Perhaps as much as any passage of scripture this one from Luke can be thought to speak for itself. Of course, we should all be frightened if it does.
February 10, 2019: "Here I Am, Send Me”
You may have noticed that the Old Testament passages we have read today and last Sunday are the call stories of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Call stories in the Bible most often tell us how an ordinary person is called into God’s service. These two were prophets; that is people who speak the word of God to mortals. Prophets are not fortunetellers, seers or astrologers. They may foretell an event, but only as a warning to heed God’s call to repentance.
February 3, 2019: "Love is the Answer”
Those of us who were around in the 60s and 70s remember hearing songs that proclaimed the answer to all the world’s problems. The radio was full of songs like “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “Love Is the Answer,” and “All You Need is Love” to name just a few. Love was said to be the cure for the world’s ills of war, hate, jealousy, injustice, imperialism, communism, racism, greed, and so much more. The problem is that there were so many other songs that proclaimed the virtues and pitfalls of romantic love, “This Guy’s in Love,” “For Lovin’ Me,” and “Love, Love Me Do,” for example.
January 27, 2019: "Life Work”
Two of today’s readings have a curious commonality; they are about someone reading scripture aloud in public. From Nehemiah we heard how about the descendants of those taken into exile in 587 BCE gather before Jerusalem’s Water Gate to hear Ezra read aloud the Law of Moses. These people were allowed to return to Jerusalem by Cyrus the Great of Persia after he conquered the Babylonians in 539 BC. Not only does he allow them to return to their ancestral lands, but he gives them money to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls and Temple. Having been in exile more than fifty years they are fraught with emotion when they hear their scriptures read to them in their spiritual home town
Probably the Book of Deuteronomy.
January 20, 2019: "Simple Gifts”
I was talking with a young friend the other day and she was telling me about going to a birthday party. It reminded me of birthday parties from my childhood. The party I remember best had a small group neighborhood kids, Lucy, Jay, Garth, John, and Sam, all gathered around our kitchen table. My mom had made a chocolate cake which she decorated with little plastic soldiers.
January 13, 2019: "With you I am well pleased”
Today we mark the John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Just a week ago we were imagining Jesus as a toddler and twelve days before that we were at the nativity in Bethlehem. Today he is thirty years old and after being baptized by John will embark on his public ministry in Palestine. The church year can feel a bit rushed sometimes that is one reason it is good to have Ordinary Time to give us space to let it sink it. But today it is essential that we deal with baptism in general and Jesus’ in particular.
January 6, 2019: Epiphany Service
The Christmas we’ve just celebrated was, in a way, the first for my two-year-old son, Emmett. He clearly engaged with it this year. Spent hours at the creche, moving the figures around, Mary and Joseph petting the animals and making small talk while they waited. We read the story and Emmett asked lots of questions—there are always lots of questions right now—Why the shepherds afraid of the angel? Where baby Jesus? (Briget tried to answer this by explaining that he was in Mary’s tummy just like Emmett had been in her tummy, which led Emmett to the logical follow-up question: “You ride on donkey?”) And, of course, there was the music. I wish I could say that his first real foray into Christmas music helped to build a solid theological foundation. Alas, the three songs he fell in love with were “Rudolph,” “Jingle Bells,” and—his favorite—“The Little Drummer Boy.”
December 25, 2018: "What Child is This?"
What is it about Christmas that makes us want to sing? More than any other time of the year we want to sing at Christmas. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christmas carols. There is music for choirs by Handel, Bach, Mendelssohn, Vaughn Williams, and Tavener. Yet, for all of the simple, subtle, magnificent, and glorious music we sing at Christmas one carol speaks to my heart more tenderly, intimately, mysteriously, and lovingly than any other. It is the carol that we just sang—“What child is this?”
December 24, 2018: "A Christmas Story"
I remember the first time I saw the movie “A Christmas Story.” I stumbled across it while flipping channels one Christmas Eve. The story was a hoot. There was the eccentric father, the long-suffering wife and mother, and their two boys Randy and Ralphie. Their lives and their adventures were right out of postwar American lore.
December 23, 2018: "Open Wide"
This past Friday I was walking back to church from the post office. As I passed the Oyster Bar a woman came out of a shop walked passed me and then called out asking me if I was the rector of the Episcopal Church. I told her that I am. She began to thank me and our congregation for keeping the church open. She said how unusual this is. She went on to tell me that when she is in Middleburg she stops in to the church to pray or just enjoy the peace that she feels while sitting here.
December 16, 2018: "Dungeions and Viper"
REPENT! RETURN THE LORD! THE AX IS AT THE ROOT READY TO DETROY YOU AND ALL YOUR SINFUL WAYS!
Oh my but I am dazzled by the image of John as he is painted in this passage. I can just see him standing on an outcropping of rock above the crowd gathered on the riverbank. He is gaunt from his days in the wilderness and lack of food. His hair and beard are bedraggled. His skin is sunburnt and leathery. His hair shirt is dirty and held together by his leather belt. His feet and legs are bare. He raises one arm, points at the crowd and growls at them, “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
December 9, 2018: "Both/And"
Each year on the second Sunday of Advent we encounter John the Baptist. This is because John is portrayed as preparing the way for Jesus in each of the gospels. In the synoptic gospels—Mark, Matthew and Luke—the writers use as a portent of John’s ministry the passage we heard which is from Isaiah.
December 2, 2018: "It's the End of the World as We Know It"
Someone wandering in off of the street expecting a Christmas service will be quite disappointed today. This is true not only in Episcopal churches, but also Catholic, Lutheran or any church that has a liturgical tradition. The world outside these walls is in full swing with Christmas, mostly in order to sell more things to people for gift giving. The church, however, is focused on preparing for Christmas. Thus we are in the season of Advent.
November 25, 2018: "What is Truth?"
We are presented this morning with two concepts that we need to work out. The first comes from the church’s designation of this day as Christ the King Sunday. The second is the meaning of the word truth which comes from our Gospel reading.
November 22, 2018: "Thank-Filled Memories"
Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday celebration. I don’t find parades interesting; although my mother has always loved to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Traditional Thanksgiving Day foods are fine, but with the exception of mashed potatoes they were not foods I have wanted to gorge on. Then there are the football games which seem intended to put people to sleep even if they did not overeat. Yet these are games that my sister loves to watch.
November 18, 2018: "God-Sighted"
This is an unusual Sunday at least with regard to our readings. It is exceptional that we get to hear the story of Hannah from First Samuel and then get to hear or rather sing her song from chapter two. It is marvelous that we get her whole story in one Sunday. No having to wait to her the conclusion next week or event not at all. It is all here so let’s make the most of it.
November 4, 2018: "An Immigrant's Gift"
I love the story of Ruth for many reasons. I love what it is supposed to teach us. I love the layers of the story. I love how by learning a little bit about the Israelite context we learn about the oral tradition it came out of. I love to wonder how people in ancient times might have received the story given that it was in their context and it did not have to be explained. For example, each name in the story has a meaning and the names tell us something about the character.
November 1, 2018: "Clouds of Saints"
I was raised in a non-liturgical tradition. For us the only holy days were Christmas and Easter. So when I came to the Episcopal Church the observance of holy days such as All Saints’ Day was new and curious for me. Who were these saints we were remembering?
October 28, 2018: "Love is the Answer"
One of my favorite British comedy teams is Mitchell and Webb. They also take awkward situations to the extreme of awkwardness. For example there is the waiter who berates his customers for their lack of food and wine expertise or the haberdasher who ridicules the customer’s suit. Then there is my favorite – the Bad Vicar.
October 21, 2018: "Servant Song"
In elementary school one of the best parts of the school day was what we called recess. That was the time that we got to go out and play in the schoolyard. Often we played on the swings, jungle gym, or games like tag. Then there were times when we played team games. Part of team games was choosing up sides. There were many ways to do this, but most often the teacher would designate two captains then those captains whet through the ritual of pick kids to be on their team. IT was best to be picked first or second, it was absolutely humiliating to be picked last. Being picked last meant you were unwanted and unvalued. You were only picked because everyone had to be on a team.
October 14, 2018: "What Possesses You?"
What is it with people in Mark? They keep running up to Jesus and throwing themselves at his feet. Remember we had the leader of the synagogue who threw himself at Jesus’ feet asking for healing for his daughter. Then we had the Syrophoenician woman who threw herself a Jesus’ feet asking for a miracle to save her daughter’s life. Now we have a man throwing himself at Jesus’ feet not for a healing, but because he wants to know how to inherit eternal life. It is a curious scene.
October 7, 2018: "We Are Precious in His Sight"
Last week I mentioned that I have a book entitled Preaching the Hard Sayings of Jesus. It is one of my resources as I prepare my sermons. As you can imagine the first part of today’s Gospel lesson has a section in that book. Jesus’ teaching on divorce is hard and some might say unforgiving. Sadly this teaching has been misused over the last two thousand years to keep people, especially women, in marriages that were loveless, abusive, and even fatal. This could not have been further from what many scholars, pastors, and I believe Jesus intended.
September 30, 2018: "Stumbling Blocks and Millstones"
I have a book that I picked up many years ago. It was written by one of my seminary professors and his father who was a Presbyterian minister. The book is called Preaching the Hard Sayings of Jesus. As you might imagine today’s gospel reading is in there.
September 23, 2018: "First and Last"
How many of you have been teachers; in particular, teachers in junior high or middle school? Does any of what we just heard in the gospel lesson sound familiar to you? Think about how the disciples act in the story? When I think about it I have to smile for the disciples seem like a bunch of 8th graders.
September 9, 2018: "Be Open"
As l may well have said before, the Gospel According to Mark is my favorite of the Gospels. Mark’s Gospel has a strong sense of urgency. Everything happens “immediately” and I think Mark’s other favorite word is “and.” The Gospel at times reads like a breathless account and the writer cannot get out the exciting news of Jesus fast enough. The gospel also has a sense of earthiness and realness. Jesus gets tired and exasperated, he is not perfect. Indeed, throughout the Gospel of Mark Jesus seems very human. Or at least a human who is getting used to the idea that he also is divine.
August 26, 2018: "Lord, to whom can we go?"
First of all, are any of you thinking as I was when I first read today’s reading, “Enough with the bread metaphor already; could we please move on to something else. I am starting to get a little sick of bread especially the fleshy kind. In fact, this whole business about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is starting to feel a little nauseating rather than sanctifying?” Good news. This is the last week of the Bread of Life discourse, albeit next week’s passage has to do with another aspect of eating.
August 19, 2018: "Wonder Bread"
I love bread. All kinds of bread—wheat, rye, pumpernickel, sourdough, baguettes, challah, pita, focaccia, naan. And don’t forget sweet breads such as panettone, stollen and cinnamon buns. I am not sure how I got my love of bread. Like most Americans of my generation I grew up on bland, mushy white bread. The kind of bread that “Helps build strong bodies 12 ways,” but has no taste at all.
August 12, 2018: "Good Eats, Part Two"
As you may remember last week’s reading was from the Gospel of John and included Jesus declaring, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And here we have that verse again this week. To paraphrase the eminent theologian Brittany Spears, “Oops, I read it again.” The real theologians who put together the Revised Common lectionary start us off this week with the verse we ended with last week, then they skip a few verses to get us on to another discourse about the bread.
August 5, 2018: "Good Eats, Part One"
Throughout the gospels the crowds tend to be a little thickheaded. The disciples, Jesus’ inner circle, are often quite dense as well. This is especially true in Gospel of John where Jesus often speaks like a Greek philosopher or a German theologian. That is he comes at the idea from different sides without ever getting directly to the center, waiting for his listeners to get there on their own.
July 29, 2018: "Gonna Take a Miracle"
When reading or hearing well-known Bible stories such as today’s “Feeding of the Five Thousand” there is the risk that we are so familiar with the story that we fail to hear and recognize the most extraordinary parts. For example, as you listened to the story did it register that the group of five thousand followed Jesus from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other? The Sea of Galilee is about thirty-three miles in circumference. That means the crowd of five thousand walked about sixteen miles to catch up with Jesus. Those were some determined folks.
July 22, 2018: "The Green Green Grass of Home"
Along with the Lord’s Prayer, John 3:16, and the beginning of Genesis, the Twenty-third Psalm is one of the most recognizable pieces of scripture in all of western civilization. I would guess that most people here today could recite it without prompting and the rest of us could would only need a little help to say these famous words (at least in the King James Version). There have been dozens of musical settings of this psalm in sacred and popular music from Brahms to Vaughn Williams to Bobby McFerrin. There have also been paraphrases of the psalm and re-imaginings of it in poetry and hymns by George Herbert and Isaac Watts among others. There have even been some profane versions of the psalm, especially among soldiers, it is that well-known.
July 15, 2018: "The Prophet Motive"
One technique that educators use in the classroom, especially when teaching people a new concept or area of study is to find something they are familiar with to hang it on. I am fond of using movie references for this purpose. For this scene from Amos I am reminded of a classis western movie (I call this “The Prophet Fight at the Temple Beth El.”) Amos is like the US Marshall come to town to take on the corrupt local sheriff, Amaziah, and the cattle baron, Jeroboam. Amos tells Amaziah that he and the boss have been treating the townsfolk “a might poorly,” and that just won’t do. When Amaziah tells the big boss “the land is not able to bear all [of Amos’] words.” He is saying, “Pardner this town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”
July 8, 2018: "How Would Jesus Fail"
Many of you may remember the comedian Rodney Dangerfield, but do you remember his signature line? Yes, it was “I can’t get no respect.” After which he would go on to tell a story where he was the target of a joke or put down that was humiliating in the extreme. It was not hard to believe he could be such a target. He cultivated the look of a loser. He was a bit disheveled. His eyes seemed to have a permanent look of surprise, wonder and startlement. His brow was always furrowed and his voice had a bit of a whine and sense of permanent complaint.
July 1, 2018: "Love Heals"
This is one of my absolute favorite stories in the Bible. There are many reasons for this from the construction of the story, the details, the actions of the people, and of course what it teaches us about God and Jesus. I could easily spend an hour working through this story with you, but do not worry I will keep it to ten minutes . . . or so.
June 24, 2018: "All Hands on Deck"
Can you think of a gospel lesson more apropos for the week we have had thattoday’s? We have had storm after storm this week. I suppose most of us have beensafely indoors when they happened, and not in a boat on an unruly sea. But even thenthe storms can be quite intimidating. I was thinking about a dog that I used to takecare of. His name of all things was Trout. He loved going for walks and was curiousabout humans and other dogs but never fearful. He was a bit nuts in that he wouldeat anything and I mean anything. He ate rocks, trash, garbage, anything that was ona counter because he presumed it was food; and once an entire bunches of bananasskins and all. His strangest habit was his reaction to thunderstorms. The moment hesensed one beginning he would run into the owner’s living room and put his head, andonly his head, under the sofa. At that point I could have put a perfectly cooked filetmignon on the floor next to him and he would not bring his head out from under thesofa to eat it. His fear of storms was too great.
June 17, 2018: "An Unlikely Kingdom"
I remember a catchy calypso song sung by Trini Lopez. In this song the singer
compares love to a lemon tree.
“Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”
May 27, 2018: "Send Me"
Here is an easy question to begin your Sunday morning. Who is God and how would we know God if we met God? Of course we could go with the old stereotypes of God being some ancient dude who lives in the sky, sitting on a throne, and surrounded by choirs of angels singing praises. Perhaps we could go with Kevin Daly’s favorite movie image of a cigar chomping George Burns as God. Or if you have read the novel The Shack you might imagine God as a wise, middle-aged, black woman.
May 20, 2018: "You Think This Happened Only Once?"
Welcome to Pentecost. Pentecost is the Greek name for a feast in the Jewish calendar. In Hebrew it is called Shavuot which means “weeks” as it marks the end of seven-week period after Passover. In practical terms it marks the wheat harvest. In religious terms Shavuot marks the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai. As things would work out the giving of the Holy Spirit came on the same day. Since Jesus is crucified and resurrected during Passover the timing is such that the holy days coincided. Because Pentecost is linked to Easter and Easter is linked to Passover which is determined by the Jewish calendar which does not match the western Gregorian calendar, Pentecost is a movable feast. It is fifty days after Easter and ten days after the Ascension in the Lukan gospel. It is also the last day of Eastertide. So our ancestors in the faith appropriated the name Pentecost for our celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit.
May 13, 2018: "Prayer Gives Life"
As I was thinking about today’s gospel lesson I was reminded of this prayer:
So far I've done all right today.
I haven't gossiped,
I haven't lost my temper,
I haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
But in a few minutes, God,
I'm going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I'm going to need a lot of help.
April 29, 2018: "Abiding Love"
I am a bit of a language snob. I get irritated with people who seem otherwise quite intelligent but in informal conversation seem to have a vocabulary limited to one or two adjectives that they use repeatedly. For example one that really drives me up a tree is “really.” Some people use really as if they have never heard of the words very, actually, or quite. I think it may be a personal quirk that I also hear myself overusing a word and stop myself mid-sentence to come up with another better or less frequently used word.
April 22, 2018: "Your Master's Voice"
By most accounts sheep are not the intelligentsia of the barnyard. Sheep are docile and obedient (to some extent), but they are also easily distracted. It takes all of the shepherd’s efforts to keep the herd intact. Many cultures have developed special shepherding dogs that endlessly circle the herd keeping individual sheep from wandering off toward a clump of tasty looking grass, and once away from the herd becoming lost or, worse yet, prey for wolves and other are predators lurking just out of sight.
April 15, 2018: "Joy, Wonder, and Disbelieving"
Since I was a child I have read the Gospels or had them read to me. I have studied the Gospels in many methods. I have been preaching the Gospels for ten years. And yet sometimes I feel I have never seen them before. Or worse yet, having seen them before I miss the obvious and perhaps most compelling aspects.
April 8, 2018: "Doubting Gene"
Poor Thomas, for nearly two thousand years he has been stuck with the nickname, Doubting Thomas. Given that he was also called “The Twin,” I have to wonder if he was one of those people whom others love to hang a moniker on. Growing up I was one of those guys. The number of nicknames I received seemed to be endless—Lil’ Gene, Genie, Gene ol’ Bean, Eugene the Jeep, LaCrutch, Cootie, Cootiehead…and those are the nice ones. But none of my nicknames stuck like Thomas’.
March 11, 2018: "Lift High the Cross"
Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?” so said Indiana Jones. Perhaps his ancestors were among the Hebrews during the Exodus. Snakes are an odd subtext to today’s readings. I suspect that if we had not had the gospel reading paired with the Numbers reading most of us would have overlooked what Jesus says at the beginning of the Gospel. After all, contained in the gospel reading is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. It is one I learned from memory in Vacation Bible School ages ago. It is the verse that is on the sign that the guy with the rainbow wig holds up in the end zone at football games—John 3:16. The King James version as I remember it, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. 1981
February 25, 2018: "Mirror Mirror on the Wall"
Have you ever asked a friend how they would describe you? If you were to do this you might learn some surprising things about yourself. So often we think that others see us as we see ourselves. If I look in the mirror I might focus on my flaws. That is the bumps and blemishes on my face, or perhaps that I did not get a clean shave today. In contrast, we also get so used to our visage that we don’t notice what is obvious to everyone else. I remember the day in my 20s when I noticed for the first time that my nose is crooked. I was stunned. Yet when I told my discovery to family members they were nonplussed. They had known about my crooked nose all along.
February 18, 2018: "Promises, Promises"
I really love the book of Genesis. I particularly like the early chapters and the stories of Creation, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, and Abraham, Sarah and their descendants. I am particularly fascinated with how God works with imperfect and often highly flawed human beings to build an ongoing relationship with humanity. One important part of the relationship building is the focus of today’s reading from Genesis. That is God making a covenant with humanity and global flooding.
February 11, 2018: “You went to the Mountaintop? What did you bring me?”
Each of the Gospel lessons we have heard over the past six Sundays since the Day of the Epiphany has been intended to show us how Jesus was revealed to the world as the Son of God. Whether it is in the arrival of the Magi to worship him, his miracles, or the demons who call out to him as the Son of the Most High. Of all of the stories we have heard this one might seem to the modern reader to be the most outlandish. Yet, the symbolism in this story may also be the most important in to those steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures as Mark’s first-century listeners would have been. There is layer upon layer in this story that reveals to us who Jesus is and how we are to view him. Indeed, the transfiguration may be the least of the revelatory aspects of this pericope. Let’s peel back some of the layers and see what this story is telling us about Jesus of Nazareth.
February 4, 2018: "No Greater Love"
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” Isaiah speaks to us about the magnificence of God somewhat incredulous that his readers don’t seem to know. He points out the power of God over nature and over the princes and kings of the earth. He tells us how unfathomable God is. Not only does God “not faint or grow weary,” but God “gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” God is powerful and God can restore us even when we fail.
January 21, 2018: "A Fish Tale"
The Jonah story is fairly well known or at least part of it is. At least many people would be able to match Jonah with a story about a whale or big fish, perhaps with a little coaching. Of course, there is the song “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the opera “Porgy and Bess.” In that song the character Sportin' Life sings “Oh Jonah he lived in a whale, Oh Jonah he lived in a whale. He made his home in that fish’s abdomen. Oh Jonah he lived in a whale.” But the Book of Jonah is about so much more than Jonah’s adventure in the belly of a big fish.
January 14, 2018: "Justice Like a Mighty Stream"
My father went to Virginia Tech. So I grew up hearing how wonderful a college it is. But the parents of my friends were not all Hokies. There were moms and dads that went to UVA, the University of Richmond, VMI, William & Mary, and dozens of out of state college and universities. To go along with the bragging about each one’s beloved alma mater and sports rivalries were the jokes. The most jokes seemed to be between UVA and Tech.
December 25, 2017: "What Child is This?"
More than any other time of the year we want to sing at Christmas. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christmas carols. For all of the simple, subtle, magnificent, and glorious music we sing or hear at Christmas one carol speaks to my heart more tenderly, intimately, mysteriously, and lovingly than any other. It is the carol that we just sang—“What child is this?”
December 24, 2017: "Mothers of God"
When I was a child Christmas Eve was very boring. There was absolutely nothing to do. We had only five channels on the TV and there was nothing on but reruns. There were no Christmas specials, or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” or the like. The Baptist church we attended did not have services on Christmas Eve. We did not have a special meal and we did not open presents. Once in a while a family friend would come by and we might get to open the small present they brought us—a pair of socks, a small book or some such.
December 24, 2017: "There’s Something About Mary"
There’s something about Mary that has bothered a lot of people including me. I really don’t think it is Mary’s fault. I think that some of us who did not grow up Roman Catholic feel that their veneration of Mary is a little weird.
December 17, 2017: "With Our Eyes on Bethlehem"
Who is John and why do we hear so much about him in the Gospels and read so much about him during Advent? We have a lot of questions about John. Each Gospel tells us about him, but the accounts vary. Let’s look at John in each Gospel starting with the oldest Gospel and proceeding chronologically.
November 22, 2017: "Thanksgiving Stew"
The first recorded service of Thanksgiving in the New World was conducted on December 4, 1619 at what would become Berkeley Plantation. The account goes that the Good Ship Margaret sailed up the James River to the designated landing spot and dropped anchor. The men rowed ashore. They looked in awe at the dense forest surrounding them. They were relieved that they had made it safely to land. Then, as commanded by the charter of the company, they knelt in prayer of thanksgiving to Almighty God.
November 19, 2017: “A Talent for Love”
Once again we are on the allegory train. In light of last week’s sermon, it will not surprise you to hear that I am not fond of allegory. This is especially true when the allegory seems so facile. Interestingly this allegory has had two major streams of interpretation over the centuries.
One stream is what I expect many of us heard growing up. That is, that the property owner in the story is Jesus. His going away for a long time is the time after his resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. His return is the second coming. The three slaves represent his followers—people like you and me. Each of the three is given a portion of the property owner’s wealth to care for while he is away. That is, each follower is given some ministry or part of the Kingdom of God to care for in the absence of Jesus. It is convenient that the sum of money the slave is to care for is called a talent or in Greek talanton. A talanton in biblical times was worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer. So this is not an insignificant sum of money that has been entrusted to each of these slaves.
November 12, 2017: “Hold on to What is Good”
There is something about parable we just heard that bothers me. It does not feel rich with Good News or compassion. As Meister Eckhart wrote, "Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.” I do not see that in this parable. Matthew begins with, “The Kingdom of Heaven will be like this.” Really? If so, then the Kingdom of Heaven is going to be very appealing to eight-year-old’s. That is the age when our moral and ethical development embraces the concept of fairness. The foolish maids did not bring extra oil. Their lamps are about to die out so they must go buy more. They don’t get back for the banquet before the doors close and are locked out. But what’s fair is fair. They did not prepare well so they are out of luck. It may be fair, but is it heaven?
November 5, 2017: “I Mean to Be One, Too.”
We like to sings songs about saints. For example, “I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true, who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew…”or how about “When the saints go marching in, or when the saints go marching in…” We also like to honor saints by naming things after them such as schools, churches, hospitals, and even football teams. People wear medals to remember saints that are important to them. People make pilgrimage to visit places where saints lived or did special deeds such as Assisi, Monte Casino, and Lourdes. We also have icons of saints to remind us what they did and help us to pray like they did.